Interview with Malika Sharipova
Malika Sharipova is a founder and director of CARE CSR. She is a CSR and sustainability specialist holding two MSc degrees in Social Responsibility and Sustainability (Aston Business School, UK) and in Management (KEDGE Business School, France) with international experience. Striving to advocate sustainable and responsible practices among businesses in Central Asia and particularly in Uzbekistan, she has spent the last five years conducting research on Corporate Social Responsibility in Uzbekistan and Europe.
- Could you please tell me about your background and what brought you to this industry?
I am a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) specialist with a Masters degree in Social Responsibility and Sustainability from an Aston Business School, UK. It was one of the first courses in the world at that time which focused on training CSR and sustainability specialists. It is pertinent to mention that 2014-2015 – years when I studied there, Birmingham has been ranked as the most sustainable city in the world. I was lucky that my studies included close interaction with local businesses and city administration by participating in Birmingham “Thrive”. This participation provided me with a unique opportunity to learn from the best practice. It was a platform, uniting practitioners and academia on topics such as CSR, responsible business, corporate governance and sustainability. Of course, my studies at KEDGE Business School, France and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Uzbekistan widened my knowledge and skills and helped me to become who I am now.
After years of studying and working in the European countries and Pakistan, I have decided to return to my home country in 2019 and establish a CSR consultancy. I truly believe that it is high time to enter these emerging markets of the region as many countries in Central Asia are opening up to the world and waiting to be explored by global businesses. As more and more companies in the world are supporting values, such as no forced and child labor, environmental protection and ethical business and trying to make a positive impact in the emerging markets, there is a growing demand for responsible and sustainable partners and supply chains. Some local companies have recognized this trend and are looking for ways to adapt to new realities and become more transparent and responsible, many more companies are yet to understand the benefits of CSR practices.
- Please tell us more about your company/products/services?
Central Asia Responsible Environment and Corporate Social Responsibility (CARE CSR) is an international consultancy established to bring world-class sustainable business practice to global supply chains.
CARE CSR is established to help businesses in Central Asia to develop and apply appropriate strategies for environmental sustainability and social responsibility. CARE CSR works with organisations at any stage of the sustainability journey, without judgment, helping to transform their businesses for positive impact on People, Planet and Profit. Sustainable business practices are fundamental to long-term success in global markets. We advise organisations, giving them the tools, they need to develop winning strategies, embed responsible practices into their everyday operations, reduce their ecological footprints and communicate effectively with all stakeholders.
CARE CSR also conducts materiality analysis for companies, develops relevant CSR and sustainability strategies, offers bespoke CSR training packages designed to embed CSR practices throughout the organisations and helps to produce CSR (non- financial/sustainability) reports.
- What obstacles have you faced during COVID-19? And how are you planning to overcome it?
CSR consultancy services have faced many obstacles and challenges during COVID-19 as they are closely linked to the state of other businesses. Many businesses in Central Asian countries have ceased their operations due to quarantine and feel insecure about their future. Besides during financial hardships many local companies tend to look at CSR efforts and expenditures as something redundant or not vital. The aim of CARE CSR is to communicate and provide evidence that CSR provides opportunities to overcome challenges linked to COVID-19. Companies could work on improving their standard operating procedures to streamline them with responsible principles, low activity periods could be used to train personnel. Improving transparency, conducting business more responsibly, turning them green and communicating it effectively could make companies stand out among their peers. Overall, it is well-acknowledged that CSR could serve as an essential instrument to overcome difficult times.
We are trying to retain existing partners and reach out to new customers to communicate those benefits but without face to face interactions this has become a challenge itself. That is why we are focusing on working online, doing online studies and surveys, interacting with international organizations and clients to promote CSR practices in Uzbekistan using new tools such as video calls.
- Which industries will be more profitable once pandemic is over ?
COVID-19 has accelerated the development of information technology (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI), many people work from home, online conferencing tools such as ZOOM, Hangouts meet, Slack and others are becoming an integral part of work and life. Online shops and grocery retailers received another boost during quarantine times. For instance, Amazon is planning to recruit more employees to cope with a surge in online orders. Robotic automation and AI programs will soon be replacing humans to achieve long-term resilience and sustainability in production.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) producers will be blooming as the demand for such health products will rise. We can see that several companies have turned their hand or retooled to produce PPEs, disinfectants, ventilators and other medical equipment. Of course, we also have to mention the soaring demand in the pharmaceutical industry.
- Based on your experience, how should an organisation adapt to external changes and risks?
The sustainability and the development of the organisations depend on many factors including readiness to changes according to the surrounding environment, open mindedness of the management and the ability to meet the internal and external demands. It is also pertinent to mention the importance of risk management, conducting regular risk assessment, developing relevant risk prevention strategies and interaction with all stakeholders. For all these tasks relevant CSR strategies might provide viable solutions.
- What motivates you to keep going despite obstacles and uncertainties?
Well, it depends on how you see obstacles and uncertainties. The best way to overcome difficulties is to see them as opportunities to adapt and improve. Changes bring new ideas, open new horizons. For Central Asia, for example, global pandemic has demonstrated that the countries of the world are very connected. Many regional countries relied heavily on export of raw materials, while distance played an important role. All counties of the region are landlocked which makes export and import procedures more expensive, the new type of coronavirus made it even worse. Plunge in oil and gas prices has removed the financial cushion for the countries. COVID-19 also intensified the competition for investment as during the financial resources prefer to weather the financial uncertainties in more economically advanced harbors. To improve their attractiveness, many economies need to embrace changes and common rules of open and responsible business.
Traditional markets, retails, restaurants, constructions – all have ceased their activities. Many people expect that the governments should help them and be more accountable and transparent when it comes to public expenditures. These factors have increased the need for economic and social reforms in Central Asia and forced many governments to adapt to new realities. In some ways, the pandemic became a blessing in disguise. These are the changes, which motivate me, keep me awake at night. It is high time for our team to promote responsible business practices, to help to raise awareness on environmental and social issues.
- In your opinion, what are the main factors of growth and development?
Today everyone and everything is interconnected, globalisation links companies, industries and people from all over the world. This creates an opportunity for companies both in western and developing countries, helping them to advance their economies and communication by widening their export and import geography. Globalisation also urges companies to grow and develop to be able to meet the modern and constantly changing demands. It is never important to strive for innovative ideas to be able to survive among global competitors. Technological boom and environmental challenges are also factors for the growth.
But among all the main factors of growth and development I would single out the improvement of human capital. In any high or low times, having skilled and dedicated staff can help to achieve impressive results.
- How important is it for your organisation to cooperate with organisations from other Eurasian countries? Do you think that international cooperation is important for business?
Organizations from other Eurasian countries in the field of CSR are working in a similar situation as CARE CSR. Learning best practices from each other could help to improve the ways to solve analogous challenges.
Besides, the countries of Eurasia are the major business partners of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries. Many companies in the region are linked through production chains. Working together to improve openness and responsibility could increase their chances of integrating into the global economy.
Of course, international cooperation is important more or less for many businesses. In Uzbekistan, the government has prioritized foreign investment, tourism, export, IT and innovative technologies. This vision has been enshrined into the development strategy of the country for 2017-2021. To achieve the set goals organizations, public or private, need international cooperation.
- Does your corporation have any partners from Western countries, such as the United Kingdom?
Organizations from the Western countries play an important role in promoting CSR in Central Asia. Business entities of the advanced economies serve as role models, which define current rules of doing business. If they are inclined to follow CSR strategies and demand similar practices from their Central Asian counterparts then the need for services increases. For instance, local textile producers are showing their interest in meeting some global standards and acquiring international social and environmental certificates/audit systems, producing non-financial reports.
I recently completed a project with GIZ on assessing CSR needs in Uzbekistan and currently looking forward to working with our European colleagues to promote CSR practices among textile producers.
CARE CSR has a team member from the United Kingdom who is an experienced consultant specialising in sustainability, green technologies and circular economy. Our aim is to unite professionals from the Western and Central Asian countries to promote jointly responsible business practices. We would be very interested in cooperation with UK partners in order to become a bridge or a convenient platform facilitating trade, investment and sustainable development among the European and Central Asia countries.
- What advice would you like to give to our readers?
Rapid global economic development is causing damage to the world climate, environment and biodiversity, with serious ramifications for people and societies across the globe. Nowhere are the effects of this unsustainable development felt more keenly than in the emerging markets of Central Asia where the exploitation of commercial opportunity in cotton and textiles has had such devastating effects on the environment of the Aral Sea and the peoples who relied on it for their livelihoods.
As we all wake up to the dire consequences of irresponsible human behavior in the face of COVID-19, I would call all the businesses to start developing environmentally friendly strategies and having their share in solving societal issues.